UCLA’s Viral Gymnastics

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Joy Herrera, Staff Writer

Most people’s view of gymnastics is linked to two key things: the Olympic Games and the terrible sexual abuse scandals that rocked the sport. However, the women in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) gymnastics program have been working towards creating a new perception of gymnastics through their accessible and entertaining viral performances.

In 2018, Katelyn Ohashi went viral for her perfect 10 floor performance with UCLA gymnastics. The floor performance that Ohashi put together went viral as she incorporated her culture and unique style. The routine was set to instrumentals of Michael Jackson songs mashed together creatively and in perfect sync with her tumbling and skills.

Ohashi also incorporated contemporary popular dances into her floor routine. This was a delightful surprise to longtime fans of gymnastics, and managed to capture the attention of casual viewers. Ohashi’s charisma and general enjoyment of the sport drew people in and the attention of sponsors; the performance was featured in a Super Bowl advertisement.

“When my routine went viral in January, what stood out to people was that it was so joyful. People are so used to watching Olympic gymnastics, when you see more of the robotic, stiff gymnastics that is taken very, very seriously… I think the routine went viral because it was so relatable and people could feel joy watching it,” said Ohashi to ESPN.

Ohashi struggled throughout her life from her devotion to the sport. At times, the strain caused harm to her body and her self-esteem. She often felt the pressure to conform to the stereotypical image of a gymnast. The platform that she received after her video’s success amplified these criticisms to a larger stage, but it has also given her the chance to bring light to these issues and others.

Nia Dennis, another UCLA gymnast, has also gone viral twice for her floor routines. The first routine incorporated instrumentals from iconic Beyoncé songs and reached national attention when she appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Almost one year later, she performed another amazing floor routine with the theme of “Black excellence.” In the wake of the George Floyd protests, Dennis wanted to take the time to spotlight other Black artists in her performance and take time to talk about social justice.

The viral performances of people like Katelyn Ohashi and Nia Dennis represent a new day for gymnastics, helping the sport to find a place in the hearts and minds of people by accepting the culture of the athletes. Their routines have brought joy to the sport beyond the stage of the Olympics. The success of athletes like Ohashi and Dennis signals a change in the culture of gymnastics, allowing for inclusivity and passion.

 

Photo courtesy of NYTIMES.COM